EXPLAINER: Elon Musk’s Mars Plan

Humans on Mars by 2022

Scimex, SpaceX

Scimex, SpaceX

Andjela Ergic, ECU Reporter

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As children, many of us dreamed of becoming astronauts and visiting Mars, but those dreams were quickly tarnished when we were told that our generation may never get to see the red planet. However, a new hope has emerged promising to send humans to Mars in five short years.

Elon Musk, entrepreneur, CEO at SpaceX and the master-mind behind the Elon Musk Mars Plan, revealed an updated version of his plan to colonise Mars at The International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide this month.

The updated plan involves building one ginormous reusable spaceship known now as the BFR (Big Fu**ing Rocket), which will be able to refuel mid-flight and send people up to Mars in 2024.

So, what exactly is the Elon Musk Plan?

The Elon Musk plan, put simply, is a plan to colonise Mars. The first devised plan was presented by Elon Musk in 2016 during the International Astronautic Congress, showcasing the “Interplanetary Transport System” rocket (now known as the BFR). The original design was planned to weigh approximately 400 tonnes, and was expected to carry 300 tonnes (272,155 kilograms) worth of space cargo.

As discussed at the IPA congress 2017, the updated design will measure at 48 metres in length and the spaceship is planned to carry about half the cargo of the original design.

The BFR key technology is the automated rendezvous and docking system, which will enable the spacecraft to refuel while in orbit at the push of a button.

The spaceship is designed to carry 100 passengers to Mars at one time. SpaceX has already built and tried parts of the space craft and if all goes to plan it will launch its first mission in 2022. The trip is expected to take 80 days, an improvement on the  six to nine months it takes to reach Mars with the currently available technology.

Musk previously told the IPA Congress in Mexico that the total cost of the project is estimated to be around $300 million annually and that further “huge public-private partnership” funding will be needed. The ticket to Mars on the “Interplanetary Transport System” will cost between $100,000 to $200,000.

At the IPA in Adelaide this month, Musk told the audiences that despite the timeframe appearing ‘aspirational’ he believes that SpaceX will be able to launch the ship in five years time.

Why go to Mars?

You may be wondering why are we so eager to go to Mars? According to the Mars One Foundation, it may be as simple as the ‘realisation of a dream’ or a ‘good old-fashioned curiosity’, but for many it’s the possibility of progression for humanity. Such as: advancing our recycling methods, solar energy, food production and the advancement of medical technology.

For Elon Musk, spending time and money on crafting a spacecraft that is fit to land on Mars is simply the desire to give our current generation that opportunity combined with the prospect of creating a multi-planet species.

“I think fundamentally the future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we’re a spacefaring civilization and a multi-planet species than if we’re not. You want to be inspired, you want to wake up in the future and think it’s going to be great and that’s what a spacefaring civilization is all about … I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars,” Musk said.

President Phillip Sinel, from the Astronomical Society of Western Australia (ASWA) told ECU Daily,

“I am supportive of the long term need that humans have to expand their horizons and explore. The earth’s population is rapidly expanding and it is easy to see that humans are responsible for impacts on earth’s habitat / loss of diversity of animals and it is only going to get worse. I am skeptical that the population growth can be stopped – learning to live on other worlds or in space are going to be of increasing importance in the future.”

Opinions on the Elon Musk Mars Plan?

There have been mixed reviews of the Elon Musk Plan. Many are mesmerised by  Musk and his ambition to deliver the mission to Mars in a short time frame, while others believe there are many more factors to consider before embarking on such a foreign journey.

Zdenka Kuncic, Professor of Physics at the University of Sydney, said her concern is the significant risk of space radiation from the sun which can throw harmful radiation in an unpredictable way at humans on Mars.

“On Mars itself, the risk from space radiation is also enormous because unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have enough of a magnetic field to shield it from the radiation particles constantly being emitted from the Sun (these are the same particles that produce the beautiful aurorae on Earth – so we won’t see these on Mars).

“However, it’s possible we may be able to locate magnetic “anomalies” on Mars – regions where the magnetic field is above average – where we can establish our first bases (as we know how to shield astronauts from this radiation during their journey to Mars and in fact we have developed computer models of this already),” said Professor Kuncic.

Dr Charley Lineweaver, Associate Professor at the Australian National University of Science, believes that Musk’s plan is realistic,

“Elon Musk is impressive. He shows what intelligence and money can do when they are combined.

“Reusing and recycling seem to be at the heart of the new approach that Musk is taking. The science behind this is realistic. The unrealistic part – the thing holding us back – has always been finding the political will to invest in space,” said Dr Lineweaver.

Sinel said that the plan is far-fetched and may not be possible with the current knowledge and technology.

“Specific to Musk’s plan, the timeline of five years seems very aggressive. I suspect there is an element of “inspirational goal setting” in the target. I am not convinced that ventures in the short term can be commercially profitable, for example putting man on the moon didn’t make a profit, but space travel underpinned a large range of technologies and spawned satellites and has been rewarding in the long term. I hope he is successful – it means we are advancing faster than I expected.”



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EXPLAINER: Elon Musk’s Mars Plan